Angel by name, angel by nature. That’s how thousands of women and girls deeply disturbed by atrocities carried out by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) see Sister Angelique Namaika – a Congolese nun who is this year’s recipient of a United Nations refugee agency award for services to the forcibly displaced.
Some 320,000 people have fled their homes in DRC’s northeastern province of Orientale since 2008 to escape rebel violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has attacked and looted villages; killed, maimed, and kidnapped residents; and abducted children to serve as porters, sex slaves, and soldiers, said a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
Namaika, who was awarded the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Prize that honors those who work with refugees, has helped to transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who were forced from their homes and abused by the LRA since arriving in Dungu, a village in the Orientale province, in 2003.
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Having been displaced by the LRA herself, Namaika knows what it is like to flee one’s home, and she thinks the best remedy is empowerment.
“We have to help women to become independent, to support themselves and their families without being obliged to depend on their husbands. That way they learn their true value,” the 46-year-old Roman Catholic nun told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Dungu.
In the Center for Reintegration and Development, where Angelique works, she individually counsels women and girls who have been traumatized, teaches them the national language, Lingala, and shows them how to sow and bake.
One of Namaika’s saddest but also happiest memories of the last decade involves a mute young girl who had been forced to flee her home because villagers – superstitious of her muteness – believed her family had brought death to the community.
“When I see children without parents it touches me, because I grew up in a loving home with my family all around me. So despite the poor conditions I do my best to help. I am not discouraged, even if resources are low,” she said.
“I took the girl in and taught her how to bake pastry, and now she has blossomed in her work. I also helped her reconcile her differences with her mother and her community and they get on very well today.”
Where Namaika works, there is no electricity, no running water, and no paved roads. But she is inspired by the Bible and by a German nun who came to visit her chapel to help the sick when she was nine years old.
“There was so much work to do, the nun did not have time to eat or rest. I told myself I will do everything I can to become like her and to help her, so that she may rest,” said Namaika, who thinks that if she hadn’t become a nun, she would have married and never left the home.
RECOMMENDED: Top four ways Congo's instability affects the world
Namaika says she finds her strength in God and in the training she has received from international nongovernmental organizations on protecting women and children.
“Combined with the words of the Lord, this training gave me a lot of courage and allowed me to do what I do now,” she said. “It is difficult to imagine how much the women and girls abused by the LRA have suffered. They will bear the scars of this violence for their whole lives,” said Namaika.
She believes the award will help her reach more displaced people in Dungu who need support to restart their lives.
“I will never stop doing all I can to give them hope and the chance to live again,” she said.
• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.
The cost of solar power has come down dramatically in recent years. And millions of people in the developing world desperately need a cheap, clean source of energy. But solar is only coming to them slowly.
What's holding things up?
While there are some tough distribution hurdles to leap to get solar power to remote villages, the bigger challenge is how to finance it. Customers usually can pay very little up front. They need ways to "pay as you go," buying electricity as they use it. But solar power companies need capital up front to finance their projects.
That's where SunFunder steps in. It's a solar-financing company that partners with solar businesses in places like Africa and India.
And where does SunFunder get its money? Right now it's taking advantage of crowdsourcing. Some 600 individuals from 33 countries have provided loans averaging about $100 each. As it grows, SunFunder is also reaching out to larger private investors, foundations, and even government entities.
"We see a really big opportunity there," says Ryan Levinson, who founded SunFunder in July 2012. While crowdfunding has been a great launching pad, the need for large amounts of capital is evident. "We believe it's going to be a profitable industry," says Mr. Levinson, who previously had served as a vice president for solar projects at Wells Fargo. Solar could "provide energy to over a billion people" in the developing world who lack it, he says.
Kerosene and diesel are the current fuels of choice in the developing world. But they are dirty sources of energy, create poor indoor air quality, contribute to climate change, and are very costly. Poor people "spend a huge amount of their income for energy," Levinson says. "That's what energy poverty is."
To attack the problem Sunfunder makes short-term loans to solar businesses of one to three years. The loan sizes have ranged from $4,000 to $25,000. So far 10 projects have been funded on the SunFunder website, totaling $140,000. The first of these modest-sized loans, which big banks often ignore as not worth their time, already has been 100 percent repaid.
While solar has an important role to play in cooking, lighting, and heating, its biggest appeal in developing countries is as a means of charging cell phones.
"Cell phone charging is the No. 1 reason people want solar," Levinson says. "We hear that over and over again. It took me a few times hearing it before I started believing it."
Some 600 million people in the world have cell phones but lack access to any kind of convenient or affordable way to charge them. They may have to walk for hours to a charging station, which might consist of a car battery being charged by a diesel engine.
Cell phones are opening up new ways for poor people to pay for things, including solar power. "Now people are able to charge their cell phones with solar energy – and also pay for their solar energy by cell phone," Levinson says. In that way, solar power is "not just about access to energy but access to [cell phone] connectivity, to information."
The repayment rate to SunFunder and its investors has been 100 percent, he says. "We're very careful" in choosing solar companies to work with, Levinson says. "They have to have a strong track record and know what they're doing."
The growing San Francisco-based company has a five-person team, including cofounder Audrey Desiderato, who is stationed in Tanzania.
After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of organizing as a nonprofit entity, Levinson decided SunFunder should be a for-profit company to maximize its ability to grow.
"I think there is still a big role for nonprofits" in solar power, he quickly adds, especially in funding "more risky" experimental or pilot projects, such as solar-powered cell phone towers.
"There's a lot of experimentation, a lot of business models being tested," he says.
• For more information visit SunFunder.
Many people might not think twice about getting a drink of water from the kitchen sink.
But for Scott Harrison, such a simple action has a much deeper meaning.
Mr. Harrison is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a nonprofit organization working to bring safe and clean drinking water to the more than 800 million people living in developing nations who have never had such a luxury.
Whether building freshwater wells or rainwater catchments, or providing sand filters, charity: water prides itself on finding simple solutions to help solve the world’s water crisis – one the organization says impacts roughly 1 in every 9 persons around the globe.
“I think we've tried to make it easy for people to engage in the issue, and give,” Mr. Harrison says. “There are many layers of complexity, and our work looks different in each context around the world. But at its simplest, there are 800 million people who have been born in communities where there's simply no clean water available.
“There are many solutions to help, like digging and drilling wells, constructing biosand household filters, rainwater-harvesting systems, or piped spring protection systems. Through charity: water's unique model, 100 percent of public donations go directly to the field, as our staff and operating costs are supported by 100 private donors, and we prove [the existence of] every single project on Google Maps using photos and GPS.”
Since its founding in 2006, charity: water has become involved in some 20 countries around the world, with issues of poverty, political stability, local leadership, and water scarcity being factors that determine where its work can have the greatest benefit.
To date, the organization has funded 9,015 projects that have the capability to provide access to clean water to some 3.3 million people.
But Harrison wasn’t always fighting to solve the world’s water shortage.
He had been a promoter for major nightclubs and fashion events in New York City when, in 2004, he decided to make a change.
“Desperately unhappy, I needed to change,” he recounted. “Faced with spiritual bankruptcy, I wanted desperately to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?”
He began his journey through volunteering with Mercy Ships, a humanitarian organization that offers free medical care for the poorest around the world via a floating hospital, for which he served as a photojournalist.
The images he witnessed and photographed – visions of poverty and human suffering he never before had imagined – stuck with him as he tried to find a way to do his part.
And thus charity: water came to be.
“For 10 years I lived selfishly and arrogantly, giving very little – if anything – back to anyone else,” he says. “The fact that I've been able to redeem that lost decade and use some of those skills learned from nightlife to serve others is such an honor, and some days I just can't believe that I actually get to do this for a living.”
Harrison says he is constantly inspired by the people who support his organization, notably those who "donate" their birthdays through giving up gifts and parties and instead asking for donations to charity: water.
"We've had several people walk across the United States for charity: water, and a few groups and individuals bike the same distance,” he says. “We've had people skydive, write haikus from Afghanistan, shave their beards, give up wedding gifts, and even sail across the Atlantic Ocean – all to raise awareness and money.”
Beyond the work of those who support charity: water, the images Harrison has seen of poverty and suffering across the globe continue to remain in his mind.
“I've now walked in hundreds of villages with and without access to clean drinking water. I've seen what it means for women to literally walk over five hours every single day to get water that makes their kids sick,” he says. “I've seen children drinking from swamps, ponds, and rivers that you or I wouldn't let our dogs drink from that are filled with leeches and disease.
“But thanks to our supporters around the world, we've now funded water projects that will bring clean water to more than 9,000 villages in 20 countries. We say that water changes everything, and it's unbelievable to see a drilling rig find clean water buried in an aquifer 300 feet beneath a school or village, and celebrate with the community.”
Despite the successes of charity: water, Harrison says the organization’s work is far from done.
“We hope to help 100 million people get access to clean water in the next 10 years,” he says, “which means we are going to have to figure out how to raise more than $3 billion.”
• To learn more about charity: water or to provide support, visit www.charitywater.org.
Upon graduating from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art with a degree in Fibers, 21-year-old Rachel Faller took the road less traveled. By “less” I mean virtually no one, and by “road,” I mean that she hopped on a plane, said goodbye to the comforts of American living, and launched a socially responsible fashion label in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
There were clearly some twists and turns along the way, but that is essentially what Rachel, now 26 years of age, accomplished; it’s the path she continues to walk today. Guided by her passion for social justice and a desire to make a difference in her community, Rachel parlayed her knowledge of textiles and art to create KeoK’jay, an innovative fashion label, integrating social and environmental responsibility with contemporary design.
These days, being called a “socially responsible” enterprise is a badge of honor. But let’s face it, there are socially responsible enterprises, and then there are socially responsible enterprises!
According to Rachel: “In order for responsible production to take root, it needs to be shown to be profitable without aid subsidies. KeoK’jay is (in some ways) a traditional, sales-supported business that can compete in the international fashion scene, but without all the labor violations and environment trashing. By creating high quality products that resonate with the ever-changing fashion market without sacrificing our principals, we aim to combat the traditional victim mentality that leads to dependency by building a business model that does not rely on charity to sell products. In other words, no one gives our staff wages; they earn them by making great stuff that people want to buy. And we think that’s pretty cool.”
In just a few years, Rachel has built KeoK’jay into a developed brand with two retail shops in Cambodia and international distribution. She wears many hats at KeoK’jay, from management and design to merchandizing and business development.
Most impressive, in my opinion, is how Rachel managed to accomplish all of this while staying true to her values and the communities she serves. Thanks for inspiring us Rachel and for answering the Talking GOOD questions.
1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? Be kind.
2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? One of the biggest things I have learned is that receiving is actually as important, if not more important, than giving. Being the receiver is sometimes much more difficult. It can be humbling; it reminds us we are human, that we have weaknesses and needs. We have to see ourselves as vulnerable; we have to be open to be open-minded.
When we enter a situation seeing what we have to learn or gain, rather than what we have to teach or give, often times we have a much bigger impact on the community we wish to help. Humility touches people’s hearts, which motivates them to change things for themselves, in the long run making the much bigger and sustainable change that we seek.
I’ve found time and time again that what I thought was needed by some community turned out to be not as I initially thought and something else entirely was needed. The only way we can sort through this, especially in the “giving” sector, is to first research, learn, listen, and get, and then to talk, teach, and give, or open up doors for people to do so.
3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Everything.
4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I have to say that some of my biggest heroes are my staff and other people around the world who are making changes in their communities without any recognition. The ones who are standing up and doing something about the problems facing themselves and their families. The impact of these grass-roots activists will change the problems faced by the communities in which we work more than we can imagine. Thus I feel really lucky that every day I get to work with and speak with my heroes!
5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? I know you want me to tell you the one THING that we really need, but our biggest needs are always in human capacity. All of the “stuff” that we need is easily sorted out when we have the right people in place to manage, find, purchase, or organize the stuff.
So finding, training and building a solid management team is our most important priority. As much as possible we want that team to be Cambodian, but there’s also room for dedicated professionals from other countries who have skills relevant to our work.
6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? I’d love to ask your readers what they love to do most. How can you take this and use it to benefit yourself and your community?
7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? I’ve always wanted to write a satirical graphic novel called “Adventures in NGO Land” (Cambodia’s got the highest number of nonprofit organizations per capita in the world, yet sadly sometimes they do more harm then good.)
8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? Living in Cambodia has caused me to start enjoying really bad television. When dealing with intense experiences in my daily work, the last thing I want to do when I come home is watch a documentary that I have to think about, which I used to really enjoy.
9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Figure out what you love to do most, and what inspires you most, and then go out and do that, while keeping an open-minded and respectful perspective with the people around you. I believe this is the best way to do good and make an impact, as well as to avoid becoming either burned out or jaded.
You have to love what you do and know that you are doing what’s best for yourself while doing good for others. Otherwise it is not sustainable, and it doesn’t really help anyone in the long run either.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)
By the way, I have to say that I stole this favorite quote from a friend and mentor, Daniela Papi; it is also her favorite quote!
• This article was originally posted at Talking GOOD, a series of interviews with “citizen philanthropists” who champion causes and lead by example. Talking GOOD was launched in 2012 by Rich Polt, principal of the Baltimore-based PR consultancy Communicate Good, LLC. To nominate someone for a Talking GOOD interview, please fill out this form, or email email@example.com.
A fund for a homeless man who turned in a backpack with more than $40,000 inside has collected more than $104,000 – an overwhelming response that is a "statement to everyone in America," according to the man who started the donation drive.
Glen James flagged down a police officer Saturday after he found the backpack containing $2,400 in cash and almost $40,000 in traveler's checks at the South Bay Mall in Boston. The man who lost it told workers at a nearby store and they called police, who later returned the backpack to him.
Boston police honored James with a special citation Monday. After reading media accounts of James' honesty, a stranger, Ethan Whittington, started a fund for James on the crowdfunding site gofundme.com. By Thursday noon, $104,000 in donations had been made.
Whittington, a 27-year-old from Midlothian, Va., who is an accounts manager for a marketing firm, said he decided to try to raise money for James after reading about his honesty. Now Whittington says he's overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers.
"The fact that he's in the situation he is, being homeless, it blew my mind that he would do this (turn in the backpack)," Whittington said Wednesday.
"It's caught on like wildfire ever since," he said. "It's brought me a lot of hope. ... This isn't only about rewarding a great guy. I think it's a statement to everyone in America. If we come together and work toward one thing and work together, then we can make it happen."
Whittington said he's also encountered some skeptics who question whether his efforts to raise money for James could be a scam.
"It's almost kind of depressing, to do something for a great cause, and you've got the naysayers out there," he said.
"I just wish there was some way I could 100 percent reassure everyone. I would be publicly humiliated if I scammed people now."
Whittington said he has spoken with James on the phone and hopes to come to Boston soon to work out how the money will be distributed to James. He said his new fundraising goal for James is $250,000, up from the $50,000 he originally hoped to raise.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
On a drizzly Sunday afternoon in Olympia, Wash,, two young women sit in a basement and open mail, reading and sorting under a 40-watt light bulb. They're surrounded by brown paper parcels stacked on chairs and a table.
One letter reads: "I wouldn't mind a book on creative writing or books with photos of birds, flowers, and natural colors that have been absent from my life for many years."
One of the women scours the basement shelves for a nature book to send this inmate in a Texas prison.
The two are part of Books to Prisoners, a group that sends free reading material to inmates across the United States, operating on the slimmest of shoestrings but with a dogged determination.
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Organized in Olympia in 1996, Books to Prisoners is motivated by a desire to show solidarity with prisoners. The organization believes that conditions in prisons can further dehumanize the people who are held there.
The letters they receive, some written on small scraps of paper and many written months before, are a window into the lives of prisoners.
A California inmate requests any self-help and educational books that are available. He has abundant time, and he needs to use it wisely, he says.
“My devaluing of the importance of education was a major factor leading to the damage I caused my victims …” he writes.
Another says: “If you have any survivor memoirs that would be cool, especially survivors from German concentration camps or Russian gulags.” He likes to compare himself to them and feel fortunate in comparison. He signs off: “Peace and chocolate.”
Prisoners most often request dictionaries, African American history and fiction, books on native American studies, legal publications, GED study guides, and books in Spanish. They also request general fiction, politics, and art.
Books to Prisoners volunteer Tina Echeverria says her desire to help was shaped by family experiences.
Her younger brother was a Vietnam War draft resister who narrowly avoided prison. Her two daughters spent a night in jail after taking part in a protest against the Iraq war. Her uncle in Guatemala was imprisoned after his son, who lived with him, committed a crime and he was considered an accomplice. Her grandfather owned a gas station in California and was murdered in a robbery. His killer was never caught.
Ms. Echeverria understands that many people, including her friends, don’t have the same level of empathy for prisoners as she does.
“I think the majority of the general population believes that people who are in prison deserve to be there,” she says. “I do think there are individuals who are unsafe to be around other people and need to be in some kind of institution where they can get help. But a lot of people are in prison just for trying to make it with the only resources available to them.”
The organization’s needs are basic (rent, postage, book donations, some volunteers), and its structure is simple. It has the feel of operating in a back avenue of society with a minimum of resources – much like the prisoners it serves.
Olympia Books to Prisoners pays $50 a month to rent its basement in a residential area. It has a steady flow of used books dropped off at two donation bins.
Many volunteers are students or graduates of Evergreen State College in Olympia. They come on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights to maintain the “library” by sorting and shelving. Others open letters and roam the basement to find any book that might resemble an inmate’s request. Up to five pounds of used paperbacks – a weight dictated by postage rates – are wrapped and sent to each inmate. This usually translates into four to six books.
The organization is a nonhierarchical collective that makes decisions through consensus. It doesn’t believe in presidents, CEOs, bosses or anyone having more authority than others.
Members think this model is part of the group’s longevity. As volunteers come and go, the current ones have the power to decide together how things should be done. They say this has allowed Books to Prisoners to adapt to the waxing and waning of volunteer muscle, financial stability, and other conditions. Currently, half of the volunteers are key holders with the ability to unlock the basement and host volunteer shifts. They have more responsibility, but not more authority. Only the owner of the house, who gets to vet the key holders, has a larger say.
A number of groups across the country send books to prisoners, but the Olympia and Portland organization are among a handful that have a nontraditional structure. The Seattle parent organization is larger, more formally organized, and more active in fundraising. It was founded by Left Bank Books in 1973.
One volunteer came to Olympia Books to Prisoners after spending five years in prison. The books she received there meant everything to her. “It's survival. It's a way of learning and furthering your mind and going to places you can't go because you are behind bars,” she says.
RECOMMENDED: When prison doors swing open
She prefers not to give her name because of her incarceration, but she says communication with people outside prison makes an enormous difference.
”To get a few words from a stranger and know that they're rooting for you is something that reminds you that you are a person and that there is this larger world you belong in, that not everything is closed off by the prison gate.”
While still in prison, she vowed to join Books to Prisoners upon her release.
“There are days that are so hard. You miss your life, your lover, your cat. You miss lots of things for years on end. Then one day you get this piece of mail or this book you were hoping to read, and it changes everything.”
“We just met at church.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but when Mary Gispert met Father James Okello of the Archdiocese of Gulu, Uganda, during his visit to her home parish in 2012, her life was going to change.
While she had met and spoken with several missionary priests who had visited her parish in the past, something about Father Okello’s message resonated with her.
“The way he presented the story just triggered a soft spot in my heart for the people there,” Ms. Gispert says.
Father Okello shared the story of his parishioners, the people of Gulu, Uganda – who are slowly recovering from a more than 20-year war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. In spite of the overwhelming issues facing his congregation, Father Okello was determined to achieve his goal – the building of a new pre-school for children in Gulu.
The stay-at-home mother soon wound up adopting that as her goal as well.
“Give it up for Gulu” began as a simple fundraiser she launched with the Roman Catholic school attached to her home parish, a project during Lent that encouraged students to donate the change they might otherwise spend on snacks or other things to the cause of building a school for their counterparts in Uganda.
The effort raised roughly $2,500, and it got Gispert thinking about doing more for the cause.
“That was just awesome,” she says. “It gave that little kick start. I was just really drawn to figure out ways to do this.”
She continued her efforts with a restaurant fundraiser, in which a portion of the proceeds from each check went to the cause.
And through collaboration with others, a “buy a brick” fundraiser began, through which folks seeking to support the building of the school could make a donation to essentially sponsor one of the bricks that would go into the structure – an effort that raised some $11,000 in donations.
Throughout more than a year of fundraising efforts, Gispert communicated regularly with Father Okello via email, keeping herself apprised of the building process and eventually accepting his invitation to visit the site.
Her two-week trip to Gulu this past May allowed her to witness the initial stages of building what is to be named St. Catherine’s Nursery School – honoring the namesake of Gispert’s home parish in Delaware.
She recalled Father Okello driving down the road when he suddenly turned onto a tract of grass, finally parking near what, at the time, was just the foundation of the school.
“I was sort of like in a cloud,” says Gispert when describing the moments when she first saw the property. “It was a good experience – I instantly felt right at home.”
By the time she left, the building had begun to show signs of progress. And today, the roof is on the schoolhouse and restroom facilities are under construction.
Through the generosity of many people, the effort has raised nearly the needed $35,000 estimated to construct the school – which includes two classrooms with furniture, as well as a pair of offices for teachers.
“It is a very simple school,” she says. “It is nothing like anything here.”
As the construction process winds down, Gispert says, it is easy to envision the school as it will be when it opens its doors to the children, who will range in age from three to seven.
“What I am picturing is this little school in an area that has been hard hit,” she says. “These little children … would be able to go to school and get a start on their education.”
Gispert recalls a powerful moment she shared with Father Okello during his visit, when she volunteered to show him around the area and take him to the University of Delaware, where her daughters attend classes.
“He had never been out of Uganda before, so this was a big trip for him,” she says.
It was when they passed a pet day-care center that Gispert was struck by just how different their worlds were.
“I actually felt embarrassed of what we have; we have so much,” she says. Her community had a care facility for household pets, while his parishioners could barely afford to eat. “That is when I came to the realization of how different our two worlds really were.”
She continues, “I just had this passion that I was going to see that he got this school. I really wanted to see what I could do to help him.”
While the project to build the school is nearing its fund-raising goal, Gispert envisions future efforts that would help construct a playground, and even allow the sponsoring of students, helping to cover their school fees.
• For more information or to provide support, visit www.giveitupforgulu.com.
Helping those in need isn't a liberal or a conservative idea. It isn't Democratic or Republican.
It's simply American.
That's the message behind One America, a new initiative by Points of Light, which calls itself the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.
Americans "always seem to unite around one thing, and that is service to the community, service to others, helping people realize their full potential as humans," says Neil Bush, chairman of Points of Light.
Despite that tradition, a partisan divisiveness has created a kind of paralysis in Washington that "has become part of our culture," says Mr. Bush, who is the son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W. Bush. "To counter that we believe that a campaign to highlight how we unify around service could be just the thing to move the country in a better, more constructive direction, where even people who have disparate interests find ways to work together."
The One America effort is taking on three issues: education, hunger, and protecting the environment. It began at an event in Columbus, Ohio, in July that was followed by Sept. 11-related activities in New York City last week. Future events will take place in Chicago, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.
In Houston, Bush's hometown, "I'm hoping to be able to attract people of different political persuasions, different faith interests, and corporate interests, and have them all participate in a 'One America' launch," Bush said in a telephone interview last week. The aim will be a real "roll up your sleeves" effort, he says, not "just some Kumbaya moment where everyone gets together and talks about the importance of unifying around service."
In the 21st century Americans have rallied together to recover from sudden disasters, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the devastation left behind by hurricanes and tornadoes. But persistent, long-term disasters need attention too, Bush says.
"So long as we have communities where there are high rates of illiteracy, or there are high dropout rates, or where [there is] teenage pregnancy, where there are high levels of violence – I view them as persistent problems, problems that create an underclass," Bush says. There is a need for volunteer helpers, for one-on-one mentors, for group projects, "for volunteers to come in and serve in a way that gives everyone the potential to realize their God-given strength and live the fullest life," he says.
Points of Light was founded in the 1990s, inspired by a speech by President George H.W. Bush in which he commended the many Americans who became "points of light" by helping others. Since then, volunteerism has grown: There were 22 million to 23 million Americans doing volunteer work back then, Neil Bush says. Today there are more than 65 million.
Points of Light recently celebrated making its 5,000th award to outstanding volunteers at a White House ceremony attended by President Obama and President George H.W. Bush.
Neil Bush's daughter, Lauren Bush Lauren, is an example of a younger generation that's putting its own imprint on volunteering, he says. The "proud father" notes that she started an organization when she was a Princeton University student called FEED that has "caused over 60 million meals to be served in Africa" and 10 million meals in schools in the United States, Bush says.
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are transforming the way people can volunteer. A friend can ask a friend online to join in a volunteer effort. People can quickly self-organize when a disaster strikes. Volunteers may even be able to see online how many slots to serve are left open or how others volunteers have rated this activity.
"There's a lot of work being done in [social media], and it's very exciting to me," Bush says.
A growing body of research suggests that volunteering is a "win win" activity that also benefits givers by making their lives happier and perhaps even longer. "People feel good serving others," he says.
And it's easy to start. "You just go. You roll up your sleeves and go," Bush says. "You're participating in an activity with friends. It's a joyful experience and kind of a part-social experience. But you're helping provide a benefit to the community."
• For more information, go to www.pointsoflight.org.
Nine out of 10 children give money to charity, according to a study released Sept. 12.
While some just give pennies, the efforts that parents and others are making to encourage giving show that charities would benefit by doing more to start early to nurture future generations of donors, says Debra Mesch, director of Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute and one of the authors of the report.
Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give than those whose parents don’t, she said, a finding that she says charities should let their supporters know.
“Parents today, especially women, are very interested in leaving a giving legacy,” says Ms. Mesch. “So charities should think about how they can involve more families in these kinds of discussions and in volunteering for an organization, or involving the children in the charity of the parents.”
The report, by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and the United Nations Foundation used data from a decades-long study of 903 American children from age 8 to 19. The children’s giving behavior was tracked during two 12-month periods, from 2002 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2008.
Among the findings:
- Giving rates among boys and girls were the same, but girls were much more likely to volunteer: Forty-nine percent of girls had given their time at least once, compared with 39 percent of boys.
- While children from households at all income levels gave, children from the most affluent households—those with $72,000 or more in income—were most likely to give. Sixty-one percent of kids in the highest-income homes gave in both years, compared with 56 percent in middle-income households and 44 percent in families that made less than $38,000.
• This article originally appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Working with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the organization analyzed satellite images taken over the past year of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and the site of a long-running battle between the government and rebel forces.
The study found hundreds of damaged or destroyed buildings, disproportionately in opposition-held neighborhoods, and a proliferation of roadblocks, with more than 1,000 visible in imagery from late May.
Earlier satellite projects focused on the Syrian cities of Homs and Hama and on documenting the growth of makeshift camps of displaced people near the Turkish border.
Satellite imagery allows the organization to gather critical data quickly and without putting witnesses or researchers in danger, says Scott Edwards, project manager for Amnesty’s Science for Human Rights project. He says the organization will continue to use multiple channels to collect information about abuses.
Satellite imagery of Syria shows damaged or destroyed buildings and a growing number of roadblocks and camps for displaced people.
“In many ways, Syria has become one very large crime scene,” he says. “Actors on the ground should be aware that there are satellites overhead and a wealth of video evidence emanating out of the country.”